Just north of Lisbon, Sintra is deservedly one of Portugal‘s tourist magnets, with visitors flocking to see the Pena Palace, forest trails and pastel-coloured villas. It’s enough to make you hungry…
The pine-carpeted hills, opulent villas and Moorish castle ruins aren’t the only things to savour in Sintra. The historic Portuguese town has a thriving restaurant scene, too. Whether your fancy is fresh fish – plucked straight from the nearby Atlantic – or petisco nibbles washed down with local wines, your appetite will be sated. No matter your budget, swerve the tourist traps and eat like the locals at our pick of the best restaurants in town.
Tourists clutter Sintra’s Instagrammable centre, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat alongside them all. Tucked down a sidestreet by the whitewashed National Palace, Romaria de Baco dishes up Portuguese favourites for a local-leaning crowd. An exposed stone wall and a vaulted wooden ceiling set the scene for a feast of petisco snacks and succulent calamari. Accompany with plenty of local wine, of course – this spot is named after Bacchus, the Roman god of vino.
Handily located a few steps from Sintra’s main train station, this white-tablecloth affair from chef Luis Santos will give you one of the best meals you’ll have in the town. Dress smartly for the classy atmosphere and enjoy a gourmet parade of delights, ranging from smoked duck carpaccio with orange and honey, to tender stewed octopus with spinach and sweet potato. Whatever you plump for, be sure to save room for dessert; the creamy, coffee-laced tiramisu is not to be missed.
If you’re passing Sintra’s 14th-century, azulejo-tiled Pipa Fountain, look up – this restaurant is nestled in the building right above it. A specialist in petiscos, Tascantiga is the perfect spot to break up the sightseeing with a light lunch of croquettes, prawns, bacalhau sandwiches, or grilled portobello mushrooms with tangy são jorge cheese. When the weather’s particularly good (and it often is), snag one of the outdoor tables, order a frosty cerveja and settle in for the afternoon.
From the cheery, yellow-striped awning, to the warm, attentive service, Nau Palatina is one of those restaurants you’ll remember long after the holiday is over. Found in São Pedro de Penaferrim, it’s a bit of a walk from Sintra’s core, but that means escaping the worst of the tourist crowds – a major bonus. The food itself is excellent: a petisco menu foraged from local ingredients contains ham-and-almond-topped toasts, blushing pink prawns, rich pork cheeks and decadent desserts.
There’s a charming, old-world feel to this restaurant in Sintra’s centre, from its vaulted 17th-century interior – brightened with green tiling – to the white tablecloths and sturdy wooden chairs. Seafood is the speciality here, and you’ll find it grilled simply with veg, spooned over rice, or stirred through decadent stews. Travelling as a couple? Come for dinner, when candlesticks on tables add a dash of romance, and you can work your way through the wine list at a leisurely pace.
Set in a converted grain warehouse in the town centre, Tulhas – with its wrought-iron chandeliers, intricate tiling and dark, wood-beamed ceilings – is the picture of old-school Portugal. The menu follows suit with local classics, and you’re here for one dish in particular: bacalhau com natas, a creamy cod gratin swimming in delicious béchamel. Not a fan of Portugal’s beloved salted fish? Try the grilled octopus instead, or the creamy chestnut soup.
If you’re staying in Portugal for a while, you may want to break up the classic fare with a feast from a different land. Enter Mammasantissima, an Italian restaurant dishing up seafood-studded pastas, balsamic-drizzled rocket salads and crisp pizzas. Even if you’re not in the mood for bruschetta, it’s worth visiting for the location alone, overlooking a sleepy lake in the upmarket Quinta da Beloura district – a favourite with golfers and local celebrities.
The setting can’t be beat: Bar do Fundo overlooks a strip of golden beach to the west of Sintra’s centre, with crashing waves and honeyed sunsets beyond. If you can tear your eyes away from the view, the food is pretty notable too, with succulent seared beef steaks and flavour-packed rice dishes. It also turns out a lovely brunch, with pancakes and avocado toast, but lunch is primetime; order an icy bottle of white wine, and there’s nowhere better to be.